The Huguenots and the Edict of Nantes 1598–1629

  • N. M. Sutherland


My task is to provide a brief background survey of that Edict of Nantes whose ultimate revocation is the subject, or anyway the occasion, of this book. The history of the edict lies mainly between the years 1598, when it was signed, and 1629 when the Huguenots were confined to their sectarian capacity. This may sound like a well-worn subject. In fact much work remains to be done, and it is still highly controversial. I mean to pose, and to leave you with, some unanswered questions. In a wider sense, one could trace the origins of the edict from the first edict, of January 1562, which had permitted a degree of licensed coexistence. But the edict of January had failed to avert civil war and, similarly, the Edict of Nantes did not terminate the conflict. After the Peace of Alais in June 1629 there was a long coda, before the Revocation in 1685. It is perhaps partly this passage of time which explains the sense of outrage which the revocation has always aroused. Indignation is one thing, but should we really be surprised? Well before 1661 and the personal rule of Louis XIV, all the various elements of danger had drained from the issue, and it is true that the passage of time might have had a tranquillising effect. The tragedy was that those who suffered the revocation were quite unlike those who had persistently defied the king.


General Article Deputation Generale United Province Sectarian Capacity Anxious Preoccupation 
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  1. 1.
    E.I. Perry, From Theology to History: French Religious Controversy and the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes (The Hague, 1973) p. 9.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    P. Blet, Le Clergé de France et la Monarchie, 2 vols (Rome, 1959) vol. I, pp.378–9.Google Scholar
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    The Edict of Nantes was indeed so described in 1610. E. Benoist, Histoire de l’Edict de Nantes 5 vols (Delft, 1693–5) vol. ii, recueil, pp. 3–5.Google Scholar
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    This process is traced in N. M. Sutherland, ‘The Edit of Nantes and the Protestant State’, Annali della Fondazione italiana per la storia amministrativa, 2 (1965) pp. 199–236.Google Scholar
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    It was based on the edicts of pacification which are analysed in N. M. Sutherland, The Huguenot Struggle for Recognition (New Haven and London, 1980) pp. 333–72. The edicts are printed, without that of Nantes, in André Stegmann, Edits des guerres de religion (Paris, 1979).Google Scholar
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    The text of the Edict of Nantes is most readily available in Roland Mousnier, L’Assassinat de Henri IV (Paris, 1964) pp. 294 ff.Google Scholar
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    M. Mullet, The Counter Reformation, (Lancaster pamphlets, London, 1984) p. 34, expressed the surprising opinion that the edict ‘weakened the traditional role of the Catholic Church in France’.Google Scholar
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    This is based on a well-known passage in Richelieu’s Political Testament. H. B. Hill (ed.) The Political Testament of Cardinal Richelieu (Madison, 1961) p. 11. Tapié, France in the Age of Louis XIII, (edn 1984) pp. 140–1, points out that the celebrated passage has been the starting-point for a disastrous scholastic tradition.Google Scholar
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    The peace of La Rochelle concerned only La Rochelle for which it was very harsh. This shows the government to have been in a strong position. By the Peace of Paris Rohan received confirmation of certain stale articles and no formal treaty at all. Clarke, Huguenot Warrior, p. 134; P. Grillon, Les Papiers de Richelieu, vol. I, 1624–6 (Paris, 1975) pp. 287–8.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Huguenot Society of Great Britain and Ireland 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • N. M. Sutherland

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